Sailors pitch in to build classrooms


Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Sailors of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) are being hailed for their humanitarian efforts in Vietnam last fall that included the revitalization of a centre for Agent Orange victims.

On Sept. 27, 2018, 24 sailors from HMCS Calgary and Naval Replenishment Unit (NRU) Asterix got the ball rolling on an extensive revitalization project at Social Welfare Centre No. 3 for Agent Orange and Disadvantaged Children. The work included cleaning, painting, providing new furniture and toys, and teaching equipment for the centre located in Vietnam’s coastal city of Da Nang.

Colonel Jeff Drummond, Canadian Defence Attaché Singapore/Cambodia/Vietnam, facilitated the port visit to Da Nang by HMCS Calgary and Asterix, who were at the time deployed on Operation Projection. He acted as an intermediary between the sailors and centre to determine the scope and tasking of the project. Upon further discussion with the Director, Col Drummond realized there was more work to do: build additional classrooms for the children.

He had a conversation with Calgary’s Operation Chief, Chief Petty Officer Second Class Line Laurendeau that resulted in a quick solution. CPO2 Laurendeau, who supervised the ship’s outreach programs, offered up money to pay for supplies to build the classrooms from the ship’s Boomer’s Legacy funds. She then met with the Director and staff and helped them purchase the required building materials, while the centre arranged for contractors to perform the work.

In January, the centre held an inauguration ceremony for the new classrooms, which was attended by school officials, the Canadian Ambassador to Vietnam Deborah Paul and embassy staff members. A plaque above the entrance to the classrooms unveiled at the ceremony pays tribute to sailors of the RCN and Boomers Legacy.

“It was very poignant dealing with the Director and staff of the centre. Although they were expecting the agreed outreach activities of the crew, they were incredulous that they could actually commence building the additional classrooms thanks to Boomer’s Legacy funding,” said Col Drummond.

The Canadian charitable foundation was created in memory Canadian soldier Andrew ‘Boomer’ Eykelenboom, a medical technician who was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in 2006. He had worked tirelessly to help children in the war-torn nation before his death. 

The centre was provided with approximately $5,000 in funding to pay for the building supplies.

“This gesture made by the Boomer’s Legacy Foundation will leave an imprint on the students, the school and our sailors for years to come,” said CPO2 Laurendeau.

She also noted that interacting with staff and children in September was a priceless experience for her and her shipmates.

“The language barrier was evident, but the children’s smiles when we played with them proved to have no boundaries and had a lasting impression on everyone,” she said.

Their efforts couldn’t come at a better time. The classrooms and support for the centre were sorely needed because of the scope and impact of Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals used during the Vietnam War. A recent report by United States think tank The Aspen Institute estimates the U.S. military sprayed approximately 80 million litres of toxic chemicals during the Vietnam War, 61 per cent of which was Agent Orange.

In a separate report, the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin says approximately 4.8 million citizens were exposed to Agent Orange with tens of thousands dying from exposure and millions of others suffering from cancer and other incurable diseases including birth deformities by the grandchildren of many of these victims.

The war may have ended in 1975, but Da Nang has 5,000 AO/Dioxin victims including 1,400 children. The centre currently looks after 150 of these children, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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